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- Written by Bruce McCain
- Published on March 3, 2013
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Oaker's End Irrigon's Bid for 2A Perfection with 60-54 Victory
PENDLETON – Playing before a standing room crowd, #5 Oakland stunned #1 and previously unbeaten Irrigon, 60-54, to win the 2013 2A boys basketball championship. The basketball trophy will join the Oakers’ football championship hardware in the school’s display case.
The loss brought a heartbreaking end to a heartwarming story for the Knights, whose school has only existed for eight years. Even with Pilot Rock boys and girls earning trophies this year, it was clear throughout this tournament that Umatilla County had adopted the school tucked between Boardman and Hermiston. This was no fairy tale, as the Knights can play basketball with any team at this level. But Saturday night belonged to a group of determined, tough kids from Douglas County, some of whom held aloft a blue football trophy at Hillsboro Stadium three months ago.
In the 3rd place game, Pilot Rock gave its local fan base something to cheer about with a 57-50 win over Western Mennonite. Coupled with Irrigon’s trophy, the Blue Mountain Conference boys finished 2nd and 3rd in a tournament in which no BMC boys team had ever defeated a non-conference opponent until this year.
#5 Oakland 60 - #1 Irrigon 54
If anyone knows how difficult it is to go undefeated in a basketball season, it is Oakland’s Jeff Clark, whose 30-0 team in 2000 was the last boys squad to do it. Clark’s 2013 team ensured that piece of trivia remains intact by ending Irrigon’s bid to go 29-0. For the second time in four years a 2A boys team has reached the final game undefeated, only to lose to a team with a lesser record. In 2010 Central Linn’s undefeated season ended with a 54-38 loss to Portland Christian.
But the Oaker’s eventual victory remained in doubt until the closing moments of a game that saw 12 lead changes and five tied scores. With Oakland leading 55-51 with 1:19 to play, Irrigon’s Adrian Romero drained a 3-pointer from the baseline in front of the Knights crowd, sending the decibel levels inside the Convention Center soaring (hence the handy foam earplugs worn by some in attendance). Irrigon coach Jake McElligott called an immediate 30-second timeout to strategize the final minute of play with his team trailing 55-54.
That strategy involved fouling the Oakers, which did not have the desired effect for Irrigon. Colton Reber and Jeb Harper combined to go 5 of 6 from the free throw line in the final minute to seal the victory for Clark and the Oaker faithful, who already saw their girls’ team win a second consecutive 4th place trophy earlier in the day.
Oakland got a balanced scoring effort from nine different players who scored. Reber and Roy Benzel finished with 11 points each. Harper had another great game off the bench, scoring nine. Senior post Austin Collins finished his high school career with nine points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
For Irrigon, the loss was almost too much for some players to bear. Senior Jose Romero, who showed little emotion during his strong play on the floor was nearly inconsolable. But the 6-4 post was clearly a leader on this young team, demonstrated by his final game with nine points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Romero’s legacy will be as one of the seniors who launched what looks to be a strong run for the young Knights, who feature such bright young players as sophomores Anthony Landeros (BMC POY) and Adrian Romero, and freshman Fredy Vera, who was the best 9th grade boy in this tournament.
Senior Francisco Nunez led all scorers with 19 points in his final game as a Knight. Despite the loads of talent and potential on this team, Irrigon still shows signs of its youth, shooting barely 30% from the field in the tournament. The Knights also got beat at their own game, losing the turnover and transition game to a more disciplined Oakland team, which committed only 10 turnovers in the game, while converting Irrigon’s 17 turnovers into 21 points.
Irrigon, the team, school and community, should be proud of 2013, knowing the best may yet to come. But Oakland’s Clark can attest to how difficult it is to just reach a championship game, let alone win it, or go undefeated in the process. Clark is now 3-0 in 2A title games. It was clear from his pregame embrace of McElligott that the Oakland principal, athletic director and basketball coach wants the best for Irrigon’s bright young coach and team – only not when they are playing Clark’s Oakers.
#2 Pilot Rock 57 - #5 Western Mennonite 50
Third place games are often a truer test of a team’s mental state than any other place in the bracket. Both opponents had suffered semifinal losses, ending their dreams of a championship. Rather than playing before the sold out night session, 3rd place games are played in the afternoon. Fortunately for Pendleton fans, neither the Rockets nor the Pioneers showed any signs of quitting or lack of effort as the BMC and TRC squared off one last time in 2013, with Pilot Rock emerging with the 3rd place trophy.
The Rockets (23-7) used a 19-6 second period to get on top of Western Mennonite and held off the Pioneers (20-10) down the stretchfor the win. Pilot Rock put eight players in the scoring column, led by senior Josh Barkley’s 19 points. Coach Doug Baxter will be challenged next year due to heavy graduation losses from this trophy team. Baxter loses starters Barkley, Jason GrosJaques, Skyler Leasy, Tanner Doherty, and regular subs Austin Weinke, CeeJay Medallin and Logan Thorne.
Western Mennonite, on the other hand, returns most of its core next year, including juniors Jon Stubblefield, Victor Hess, Oliver Wisseman, and sophomores Alex Martinez and Wyatt Roth. The Pioneers say goodbye to senior Malcolm Stovall, who had 10 points, nine assists and two blocks in his final game. Roth once again came off the bench to lite a fire under the Pioneers, scoring 16 points, including 4 of five 3-pointers.
Pilot Rock and Western Mennonite were two of three schools, along with Oakland, who sent both boys and girls teams to Pendleton. All six teams returned home with trophies.
All Photos by Bruce McCain